China has resumed its ban on group tours visiting South Korea while lifting restrictions on tourists visiting North Korea, Reuters has revealed.
“I was told from my boss this morning that our Chinese partners (based in Beijing and Shandong) said they won’t send group tourists to South Korea as of January,” an official from Naeil Tour Agency said, adding that the move was probably enforced by Chinese authorities refusing the issuing of visas.
The move is a resuming of a ban first imposed in April in response to Seoul’s accelerated moves to develop a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system with the United States, intended to protect from incoming North Korean missiles.
According to Yonhap, the ban could lead to a 50 percent drop in Chinese tourism into South Korea, causing a drop in tourism revenue by $9.63 billion.
China also blocked forms of South Korean entertainment, principally in the form of television dramas broadcast on state television and online music videos.
In November, Chinese authorities also announced a significant curb in tourism to North Korea days before President Donald Trump’s state visit, although those restrictions now appear to have been lifted.
Forty Chinese tourists left the border city of Dandong last Friday on a day trip to the North Korean city of Sinuiju, which has become a popular destination for Chinese tourists.
“This is the largest group to go in from Dandong since the curb,” an industry source told Reuters, while China’s foreign ministry claimed they did “not understand the situation.”
Although heavily restricted, North Korea’s tourist industry is one of the few ways the regime obtains hard currency. The Korea Maritime Institute, a think tank in South Korea, estimates that North Korea makes $44 million annually from tourism. Eighty percent of tourists to the country are Chinese.
The favoring of tourism to North Korea is another sign of China’s loyalty to their communist ally, despite the government claiming to be “gravely concerned” about their neighbor’s accelerating nuclear program.
Trump has repeatedly sought to pressure the Chinese government for their lack of action in reducing the North Korean threat in the form of sanctions and has even threatened to entirely cut off trade with any nation that continues trading with them, interpreted as a veiled threat against China.
In June this year, the State Department banned Americans from visiting North Korea and urged any remaining Americans to leave the country, following the death of American imprisoned college student Otto Warmbier after his return to the United States. The 22-year-old had been imprisoned for over a year on charges of committing “hostile acts” against the regime.